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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - For every soft drink or sugar-sweetened beverage a child drinks every day, their obesity risk appears to jump 60%, new study findings suggest.

About 65% of adolescent girls and 74% of adolescent boys consume soft drinks daily, most of which are sugar-laden, according to Dr. David S. Ludwig of the Children's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, and colleagues.

``Currently, soft drinks constitute the leading source of added sugars in the diet, amounting to 36.2 grams daily for adolescent girls and 57.7 grams for boys,'' the researchers write.

The study included 548 Massachusetts schoolchildren of various ethnic backgrounds who were aged 11 and 12. The investigators found that for every can or glass of sugar-sweetened beverage a child drank during the 19-month study, a child's body mass index--a measure of weight related to height--and their chance of becoming obese increased 60%.

However, the authors note that their study ``was observational in nature'' and does not prove that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages will cause a child to definitely become obese.

According to the report, published in the February 17th issue of The Lancet, one possible explanation for the link is that liquids do not satisfy the appetite in the same way as food. This situation, combined with the fact that children are not likely to limit their consumption of food at mealtime to compensate for the extra soft drink calories, has an overall result of the child taking in more calories than he or she burns off.

However, the National Soft Drink Association (NSDA) believes otherwise. They issued a statement that said the ''study published in The Lancet is wrong--soft drinks do not cause pediatric obesity.'' The group states that other research on the same subject has found that soft drink consumption is not related to an increased body mass index in children.

``Regardless of the allegations of this study, our advice to consumers remain the same. A balanced diet and daily physical exercise are the keys to a healthy lifestyle. Childhood obesity is the result of many factors. Blaming it on any single factor, including soft drinks, is nutritional nonsense,'' said Dr. Richard Adamson, a spokesperson for the NSDA in the statement.

``This is the first long-term study that links soft drink consumption to obesity in children,'' the lead author of the Lancet study told Reuters Health.

``Our study received no financial support from any organization that either promotes or opposes soft drink consumption,'' Ludwig said. ``This is one study and additional research is needed in other populations,'' he added.

Obesity among US children has increased significantly since 1960--by 54% in children aged 6 to 11 and by 40% for adolescents, according to a report on the topic that came out late last year. The consumption of soft drinks has increased 500% in the last 50 years, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

SOURCE: The Lancet 2001;357:505-508.


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